Justin Morneau makes his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. The left-handed slugger played for 14 years in the majors, mostly with the Minnesota Twins. Injuries hurt Morneau’s counting stats overall, but his peak was excellent. Does he deserve a spot in Cooperstown?
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Justin Ernest George Morneau was selected out of High School in the third round in 1999 by the Twins. He had a part-time role for Minnesota in 2003, finally landing the full-time first base spot once the Twins traded Doug Mientkiewicz during the 2004 season. In 2005, Morneau struggled although he did hit 22 home runs and drove in 79. The following year is when he broke out. In 2006, the Canadian slashed .321/.375/.559 with 34 homers and 130 RBIs to take home the AL MVP award.
The next four years would be more of the same from Morneau as he was an All-Star four times and finished second in MVP voting in 2008, losing out to Dustin Pedroia. In 2010, Morneau was destroying baseballs, slashing .345/.437/.618 with 18 bombs exactly halfway through the season. On July 7, he suffered a concussion and the lingering effects kept him out for the rest of the season.
Multiple injuries kept Morneau from returning to his dominant self over the next few years, but in 2014 he found himself leading the NL in batting for the Colorado Rockies (.319). He went on to play just 107 games over the following two years with the Rockies and Chicago White Sox respectively.
Morneau’s peak was great. From 2006-2010, he had a .380 wOBA and 133 wRC+ averaging 27 HRs and 105 RBIs despite missing half of 2010. He has an MVP award and a runner-up finish. His bounceback with Colorado was impressive as he slashed .316/.363/.487 with the Rockies over 184 games. During his peak, Morneau also put up 19 DRS, showing his defensive prowess that was surely aided by his hockey background as a goalie.
While the peak is there, the rest of Morneau’s career was not great. In his final six seasons, he played 597 games and only managed 5.5 rWAR. He also doesn’t have the counting stats. Morneau fell short of 1,000 RBIs (985) and 250 HRs (247) for his career. As a first baseman, offensive numbers need to make you look twice. Aside from the batting title in Colorado, Morneau has no “black ink” and his overall stats don’t jump off the page.
We will never know what kind of career Morneau would’ve had if not for the concussion at 29 years old and the subsequent injuries which sapped much of his production. He had an excellent five seasons and if that prime would’ve lasted four or five more years, there would be more of a case. Unfortunately, Morneau’s peak didn’t last long enough and he just didn’t accumulate the overall numbers to be on the ballot after this year.
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